Lessons from a Northwest Wind

Ode to the West Wind   by Percy Bysshe Shelley

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave,until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odors plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!

The climb to the mountain summit was slow. The disc problem in my back has put my left leg in pain from a pinched sciatic nerve. It has lingered for months and months. I can tolerate the pain if I take it slowly and stop now and then. It hurts whether I’m sitting still or on the move so I may as well explore this low mountain off the west side of our property. Adia, my female bloodhound, is with me on this day. Her presence helps me to keep my mind on the beautiful surroundings and off of my back and leg.

The view at the top is nothing spectacular. You can see a wooded valley and lot more forest on an east facing hillside on the opposite side of the dell. The trees in this area are nearly all hardwoods, mostly American beech, sugar and red maple, white ash, yellow, white, and black birch, and red oak. There is a lot of outcropping bedrock. The schist contains a lot of mica and the splashes of sun that find their way through the overhead branches make the rocks glisten in quick flashes of white light. There is a strong wind today; one of the reasons I decided to climb this hill. It is cool, the air is light, and the sky is blue, blue, blue. There are a few puffy white clouds that are in sharp contrast to the brilliant blue background, and a few elongated clouds that are sort of a rectangular shape. The edges of the rectangular clouds are smeared like paint on a canvas. They seem to blend into the blue background with very fuzzy margins.

Adia lifts her nose into the wind. It quivers as she pulls in scents that I can only imagine. Bloodhounds have a sense of smell more than 100,000 times greater than that of a human being. Their world of scent brings them to dimensions we can only pretend to understand. And on a windy day like this she can smell scents from tens of miles away. I wonder how it is she separates these scents. I suspect it is like vision where we can see the whole picture and focus on what we choose.

The wind is out of the northwest and stout. Branches on the trees sway back and forth and every once in a while there is a gust that moves the air forcefully. I’m glancing upwards a lot as there are still countless hanging dead branches tangled in the tree tops from the great ice storm two and half years ago. Getting bonked in the head would not be exactly what I had in mind on this day.

These winds are created by high pressure. This common weather phenomenon is usually caused by the air being cooled. This can happen in one of two ways. The air can be cooled from below, usually from the ocean, or from above often the result of arctic air masses over land. This high pressure area is coming from Canada and probably originated over the Hudson Bay. As the air mass cools, it becomes smaller,. This allows air from nearby areas to fill in above it increasing the total mass of atmosphere above the surface, which then results in higher barometric pressures at the surface of the earth. The difference in pressure between a high pressure area and a nearby low pressure areas causes the wind to blow. The wind generally flows from high pressure to low pressure. On this day the winds are nearly fierce and they break the silence of an otherwise tranquil day..

My runny eyes tells me that there is pollen in the air today. I look at the northwest side of a white birch and I can see some of the green pollen collecting on the bark. Plant pollination happens through biotic or abiotic processes. An example of biotic pollination would be the pollination of plants by bees. Most abiotic pollination occurs either from the wind or water. Wind dispersal is often referred to as Aeolian dispersal, after the Greek God of the wind Aeolus. Only about 10% of all plants are pollinated through abiotic processes. Grasses are pollinated by wind as are sedges. Maples, birches, oaks, ashes, aspens, and conifers are pollinated by aeolian processes. In these New England forests where all of these tree species are common the wind is critical to the development of future generations.

Of course wind is a key element in seed dispersal. Seeds of all sorts, from dandelions to maples, depend upon the wind to move future generations to new reaches. A dandelion seed attached to a parachute-like structure may migrate for miles before it lands somewhere to start a new generation, whereas winged maple seeds may move only a hundred feet at the most.

Winds also moves plant pheromones. These are chemicals that plants actually use to communicate. For instance, red oaks which all produce a peak of crop acorns within a region simultaneously, likely send signals using pheromones so that each tree knows that it is time to produce a peak crop. This secret language, long unknown to humans, is ancient and may even precede human language.

Moving air is important to wildlife. Predators use it to locate the scent of prey. Prey uses it to avoid predators. Wind is a aid in migration patterns both in the woods and for birds aloft. Wind may not only determine which way wildlife moves, but whether they move at all. Many animals, such as white tailed deer, are totally dependent on locating scents in their movement patterns. Windy days with cross winds may result in the deer hunkering down to avoid predation and detection. There may be an evolutionary advantage for those animals that have learned to work with the wind. Their life is more dependent on skill than happenstance; a safe set of tools to have in a dangerous world.

Adia and I walk along the ridge towards the northwest, the wind is in our face. As we pick through the abundant dead branches and tree tops on the forest floor we come upon some recently deposited black bear scat. The scat is full of seeds. Adia is most interested and smells the scat from all sides. She attempts to roll in the scat but I pull on the leash and direct her away from a smelly encounter. Black bears (and other bears) are the only animals in North America that have a more powerful sense of smell than bloodhounds. They use this sense of smell to find food, mates, and to avoid danger. Although bears are not particularly shy they can be wily and difficult to locate when they don’t want to be seen.

After about a half of mile along the ridge, and no wildlife encounters, Adia and I start the trek back to the homestead. Along the way we stop to take in the forest. The wind lingers and blows strong scents that even I can detect. Adia lifts her nose into the air and takes it all in. She is content to keep her findings to herself. I become slightly aware of something in the air and suspect my unconscious is caught in a sea of pheromones as it struggles to interpret the subtle messages of the natural world. On some days I’m thinking it would definitely be much better to be a bloodhound.

Written for the Heath Herald in July 2011.

  • Wendy

    What a lovely walk to begin my August. I am like a blind woman with my lack of scent-ability. You remind me to feel the wind, to know the wind carries news I am oblivious to except where it fills my nose with sneezing.

  • Teresaevangeline

    Great pics. Adia in the ferns… I believe my buddy has the same leash and collar. The bit of woods, the waterfall, and the chokecherries (?). Nothing like a good walk with a canine companion to gain clarity and see beauty.  Smell it, too.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    The wind, air, and scent is one of our most over looked contributors to healthy ecological environments.  I became much more aware of this through my long-time association with hounds.  Hence the story.  Thanks for reading Wendy!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    The berries are on a hobblebush, a member of the Viburnum genus (they will turn black when ripe).  I like the imperfection of this photo.  Perfect in nature, imperfect to the human eye?  Gaining clarity is what my life seems to be about these days.  I have a long, long way to walk to find this end.  Hopefully I’ll haave a few adventures along the way.

  • http://rebeccainthewoods.wordpress.com Rebecca

    I’ve always found tree communication, like the cooperation over masting that you describe, fascinating. Trees talk to each other. Who says you need a brain to have consciousness? Who says trees can’t have an old, slow, quiet sort of consciousness we just don’t understand?

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Trees use chemicals to communicate much like we use words, with intent and for effect.  And we often forget that we use pheromones to communicate love and attraction, that spike of glory we feel and we have no idea where it came from. 

    Trees do have a “consciousness’ that we haven’t figured out yet.  Probably quite different from our own but no less important or pure. 

    Thanks for reading Rebecca.

  • http://fourwindshaiga.wordpress.com/ sandy

    I knew that the wind moved the weather around, but not exactly how it was done. Thank you!
    I like the Adia in the ferns, too. We have a spot like that near us, that I like to walk  through.
    As usual, you have given me several things to google. I am intrigued with both tree communication, and tree concience. 
    Is thata shot asters above Adia’s head? I guess we are on the backside of summer.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Flat topped aster blooms a little earlier than most other asters, typically you start seeing it in early August.  There is so much to learn about plant “intelligence”, we are now only cracking the surface. 

  • http://montucky.wordpress.com/ Montucky

    Thanks for the walk in your Eastern woods, Bill. I also enjoy the wind, revel in it, hide from it and, as a hunter, use it. One of the joys of this earth!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yes, wind is oft overlooked as one of the joys of this earth.  There is NOthing like a cool northwest wind on a hot afternoon.  The moving air moving across exposed skin, evaporating sweat is, perhaps, one of summer’s finest experiences.  That is so valuable to our ecosystems shows the value of how all works together on our planet!

  • http://alsphotographyblog.blogspot.com/ Al

    There are few things in life I enjoy more than being in the mountains with my little dog. They are always welcome companions. Nice post.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    So true, and your most recent post really jived with mine!

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    I often think of how animals use scent to make decisions, so I try it for myself while I’m out hiking. Smells in the air can be interesting when we really pay attention, but I still haven’t figured out how to use them for much. Maybe one of these days.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    An interesting comment Ratty!  The trick is to let your unconscious do the decision making and not to actually think about it.  I believe there is a direct connection between the unconscious part of the brain and our olfactory senses.  How we unconsciously react to human pheromones is a good example of this.

  • http://www.WanderingThought.com/ IcyCucky

    Your story and writing are always amazing! I feel as if I’ve followed you every step of the way, with sound, smell, and vision! The photo of berries is beautiful, Bill!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you for the wonderful compliment!  I’m glad that you chose to tag along.  The”berry” photo is hobblebush, a common Viburnum of the northern tier of States of the US.

  • http://www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com Emily

    First of all, I love the name Adia. And second, what a lucky girl she is to have someone like you to share the world with. You make nature accessible for so many, Bill. Great post, as always. The wind is currently pushing the grasses in the field out my window, and I think I might go stand in the middle of it all for a while.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Adia (with a long “I”) is Abenaki for dogstar.  Adia has a white spot on her red chest that looks like a star.  Hence the name.  I’m glad you like it, we like it too. 

    I loved the picture I had in my mind-you in the middle of a field of grass, the wind blowing, big, forever blue sky overhead, a giant smile on your face!

  • http://www.anniespickns.wordpress.com Annie

    I have saved reading this for a couple of nights. I hate just glancing through your stories because I don’t want to miss anything. I like just sitting quietly and enjoying each word, each concept. I’m like a dry sponge when I start reading and finish dripping with knowledge and wonder. Thanks!

    Love the portrait of Adia. She has very kind eyes and a beautiful face. I can tell she is in love with you.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    That is about the best compliment that I could ever receive, thank you for your generous thoughts. 

    Adia thinks she has taken ownership of me, but my male bloodhound Cooper has a different opinion, as does my wonderful wife! 

  • http://swamericana.wordpress.com/ Jack Matthews

    Ode to the West Wind — a great poem.  Adia is a fine dog, fine companion.  Going up the mountain with Adia helps you temporarily forget the pain as does the wind and tremendous greenery you have there.  That trees have that communication is really awesome.  They are families, aren’t they?  I am just impressed you live in an area that has an effect from Hudson Bay.  Might as well be the moon for us down here — but we have the Gulf prevailing winds.  Aeolian dispersal — what a totally fascinating dynamic.  I have the same affinity for wind that you seem to have, Bill.  I like it stirring trees and plants and brushing my face, neck and hands.  Your photographs are beautiful.  I really like Adia’s portrait and her wandering in the fern.  Thanks, Bill, for a beautiful post.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Yes, Shelly had some great poetry.  This one in particular kind of says it all.  I’m guessing you get a lot of weather off of the Gulf, particularly now.  Out weather comes from many different directions but the weather that comes from the the north and northwest, and the Atlantic is some of most dramatic.  I love following the weather; guessing what is coming, and guessing it is! 

    I’m huge fan of anything that the natural world has to offer.  And each day I find new things.

    Thanks for the great compliments, Jack.

  • Find an Outlet

    Destroyer and preserver…there are periods here in AZ when everyone around town says “How I wish that wind would stop!” It can be overpowering day after day, but yes after dead air it’s exhilarating. Monsoon storms with high winds can be scary, you worry about your roof. But I remember how welcome the clean ocean winds were back in CT. And I didn’t realize how the whole natural world communicates through the winds—from the trees to the mammals probably down to the tiniest mites. Amazing. Adia must have a way of processing what she smells or she would go crazy, the way we do sometimes when our heads are exploding with thoughts. How amazing that they can be trained to focus on just one tiny scent. I love all dogs, but I have a new respect for bloodhounds after getting to know yours through your writing.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    You know as well as anyone how special all dogs are.  I’ve had several mixed breed bloodhound crosses that were great scent hounds, but the two I have now are simply amazing. 

    The wind, as it is with all parts of nature, is an integral part of one living organism (Gaia) that we call earth.  Everything is interconnected because it is supposed to be.  Every element has a purpose, as does every living thing.  Far too complex for us humans to understand we do best by just learning about the system and showing appreciation for the intricacies and complexities that abound in our midst. 

    About a month ago someone told me I was a fool to believe that everything was part of a greater whole.  I can’t, for the life of me, see it any other way.

  • Barbara

    Hardly a breath of air is stirring here as I read your fabulous essay on wind Bill…what a treat. You have such a gift for taking us along with you on your fishing trips, hikes – wherever you go to celebrate Gaia and all she is…This essay is one to come back to – specially to read the comments following… I learned about Adia’s name… wonderful, but there is so much else to learn from your followers as well as from you.

    I knew about bloodhound noses, and though my lab boys haven’t got the same ability, it’s fun to watch their noses go as they raise them into a breeze or especially a wind and wonder what they smell. Particularly when we go somewhere in the car and they sit or lie in the back. Sometimes they are suddenly alert, both standing heads raised, sniffing the air. 

    Cooper and Adia obviously give you and your whole family endless delight…hikes with them seem to be always a great opportunity for something fun. Thanks for sharing Bill… and what are those berries in the last photo? Service berry? Saskatoon berry? not roseate osier dogwood – those are white or green when not ripe… I should know – they are familiar. Likely I have them somewhere on the property and am having a momentary age gap! ah well… I’ll return to this after the weekend. Again thanks Bill… lovely to walk with you and Adia.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Wind is such and important part of our world.  Like every element, however, you can have too much of a good thing.  Hurricanes for instance.

    The photo of the berries are hobblebush, a member of the Viburnum genus.  I’m guessing you have them in moist hardwood areas.  They readily grow in the shade of a thick deciduous overstory.  The berries eventually turn black when they are ripe.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Wind is such and important part of our world.  Like every
    element, however, you can have too much of a good thing.  Hurricanes for
    instance.

    The photo of the berries are hobblebush, a member of
    the Viburnum genus.  I’m guessing you have them in moist hardwood
    areas.  They readily grow in the shade of a thick deciduous overstory. 
    The berries eventually turn black when they are ripe.
    Edit Reply

Nature Blog Network